Administrator perception of threat from students with disabilities and disciplinary decisions
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The disproportionate exposure to exclusionary discipline for students with disabilities is an acknowledged phenomenon. However, a theoretical understanding for this phenomenon is unknown. Recent claims have been made that the disproportionate use of exclusionary discipline for students with disabilities results from a long-standing historical pattern of discrimination. The use of exclusionary discipline for students with disabilities results in the denial of opportunities and services at a more frequent rate than their peers without disabilities. This denial would indicate the possibility of prejudice, a construct understood to arise from the existence of a perception of threat by the ingroup in an intergroup relationship. The purpose of this study was to (a) determine if school administrators hold perceptions of threat from students with disabilities and (b) if a relationship exists between identified threats and disciplinary decisions. A survey measured threat perception, administrators' attitude toward students with disabilities, and administrators' disciplinary action preference in instances involving students with disabilities. It was hypothesized: H1. Perceived realistic threats will have a direct effect on administrator disciplinary decisions. H2. Perceived threats (both realistic and symbolic) will have a direct effect on administrator attitudes towards students with disabilities. H3. Perceived threats (both realistic and symbolic) will have an indirect effect through attitude on administrator disciplinary decisions. Confirmatory factor analysis revealed an acceptable model fit of the four latent variables of realistic and symbolic threat, educational administrator attitude toward students with disabilities, and educational administrator discipline decisions for students with disabilities. An acceptable fit was found for the originally hypothesized structural model, and no improved alternative models were identified. Realistic threat was found to have a significant relationship to educational administrators' disciplinary decisions for students with disabilities. No significant paths were identified for symbolic threat or attitude.